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Smart Photo ID Cards to Verify Worker Qualifications

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By David Finkelstein

Personal safety and security are often cited as the number one priority in the construction industry, and rightly so. There are a myriad of ways in which every member of a construction team, from CEO to craft worker, ensure safe practices. But verifying that a worker is trained and qualified for a given job is one of the most basic elements to running a safe construction site. Even here, new cloud-based technologies are becoming available to assist in this vital function.

Every foreman assigns jobs based on skills and qualifications of his crew members. Matching individuals to the tasks at hand is a constant challenge, and just as critical is avoiding problems or potential liability by not mis-assigning unqualified staff. In the past, it has often been difficult for foremen to validate the training records and qualifications of staff since paper-based records are hard to track and there is a tendency to rely too much on verbal claims and assertions. This can lead to poor progress on the worksite or to shoddy work or even accidents.

Smartphones and Cloud Services
Not surprisingly, wireless services, the Internet, and smartphones are coming to the help in this sector. There is now a new class of online services readily available which can allow foremen and managers to immediately and reliably check the training records of employees. While printed records, like diplomas and cards, can be out of date or subject to falsification, online records are inherently much more secure and reliable. By accessing digital training records using a smartphone, the foreman or inspector can be sure that an individual is qualified for a particular job.

Photo ID cards are often the basis for verifying identity and qualifications – the most common form is a driver’s license, confirming for example that a driver is CDL-qualified. Some advanced companies have deployed smart ID cards, containing a small computer chip in the card, which can contain the individual’s qualifications in an encrypted format. But the cost of such technology has limited these deployments to just the largest, most advanced global construction companies.

In the past year, a new form of ID card technology has surged forward, allowing similar capabilities at a much lower cost. This technology employs the quick response (QR) code, that black-and-white square which is now commonly seen in magazine advertisements. Printed on an ID card, such a code can allow anyone to scan the card and pull down training records from the cloud.

Best Practices: ID Cards for Everyone
On most jobsites, where many different workers with specialized skills come and go as the project progresses, the foreman is faced with two fundamental concerns about each individual on-site: validating the identity of that worker, and verifying his skills and qualifications. Only by instituting consistent, reliable procedures can the contractor avoid mistakes, delays, accidents and liability resulting from tasks assigned to unqualified workers.

While small sites with a small crew might be able to bypass the need for ID cards, larger jobsites see hundreds, if not thousands, of workers flow through at various stages of the project. Only a consistent ID card policy can ensure that each one is properly identified. Implementing procedures to confirm the identity of workers prior to allowing access to building sites or equipment is a basic requirement for any foreman.

The most common way to check identities in large organizations is with photo ID cards, primarily drivers’ licenses and company ID cards. Increasingly, companies are instituting best-practices policies requiring all staff to carry a badge at all times. Traditionally, these have been simple “flash passes,” which workers flash at the guard gate as they enter a worksite. The guard is supposed to verify that the picture matches the face before granting access. This passive photo ID card works and is sufficient for many organizations. But the limitations of this approach have led many companies to consider implementing smartcard ID cards.

An effective ID card program provides two clear functions: identity verification and check qualifications.

Identity Verification
First, verifying that an individual is who he or she is actually underpins the granting of any authorization or clearance. Cases of mistaken identity, or outright fraud, are unfortunately all too common. Just like airlines must check IDs before issuing a boarding pass, likewise a job foreman must verify each individual. Checking a driver’s license against a pre-authorized list is a step in the right direction, but a high-quality company-issued photo ID card is the best protection and the most secure approach. What is particularly encouraging is that implementing these procedures requires very little additional cost or investment.

Qualifications Check
To go one step further, QR codes can be printed on photo ID cards with little added cost. These QR codes can be read with any smartphone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry). They can be set up to allow rapid verification of personnel data, going well beyond simply checking identity. For example, a scan of the QR code can immediately display up-to-the-minute rights and authorizations for that employee and/or list their qualifications, training records, and credentials.

For example, a major construction company specializing in building wind turbines is now printing all their employee ID cards with unique QR codes. Their utility-industry clients and engineers from the turbine manufacturers can verify on-site the training and qualifications of any installer, since advanced skills are required to guarantee maximum energy output. Anyone with a smartphone can scan an employee’s QR code, and immediately check his qualifications. This reduces the risk of substandard performance and any potential liability issues.

ID Card Production
The actual production of ID cards is also undergoing a change. In the past, companies really had no choice but to undertake the costly job of printing their own cards, including investing in printers, training people, and managing maintenance, supplies, etc. This was particularly difficult at worksites with limited IT support. Today, however, thanks to cloud-based outsourcing services, online card printing options are available that relieve a company of these costs and turn the actual ID card production cost into a low-operating expense, rather than a capital expenditure.

Same-day production, even of individual card orders, is available at very reasonable cost, with immediate distribution directly to the site where the cards are required. As in many non-core support fields, outsourcing ID card production reduces costs and provides greater control for construction companies to ensure that ID card policies are actually implemented and followed throughout their far-flung organizations.

Outsourced card printing, combined with turnkey web services for identity checking and credential verification, makes a compelling case for risk managers to re-think how their current ID card program can be refined to reduce the risks inherent in weak on-site personnel identification policies.

David Finkelstein is president of InstantCard (www.instantcard.net), a leading online provider of photo ID cards and credentialing services. He can be contacted at 301-216-3846 or dfinkelstein@instantcard.net.

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